Say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Several years ago, I gave a short introduction and sang the Star Spangled Banner as a special music in Sunday morning worship. As I was preparing, I remember being struck by the fact that we typically sing only one of the four beautiful, glorious verses of that song. And what’s more, we sing the only verse that ends with the rhetorical question: “O, say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave/ o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Interesting, isn’t it?, that our most patriotic song typically ends with so little resolve?

You might say, “Come on, Ben! It’s rhetorical because the answer is so obvious! Why, one only needs look up and see that the flag is indeed still there!” And you’d be right. There is the flag… on the stage at church, at the courthouse, in homes, in businesses and at our capitols. Indeed, that Star Spangled Banner yet waves. But my question is: Does it wave “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Christian, I’m going to speak to you frankly. Are we still the land of the free? Do we even know what true liberty is? If liberty is a right endowed by our Creator, then we must look to Him to define liberty. Freedom and liberty according to the God of the Bible look very different than freedom and liberty according to the secular philosophers of our day. God’s liberty is freedom from the chains of sin; this world’s liberty is licentiousness. God’s liberty is slavery to Christ (which leads to life); the world’s liberty is slavery to sin (which leads to death).

Let’s celebrate true liberty this Independence Day. Let’s celebrate the independence offered us by Christ’s resurrection. As we consider the liberties we have in Christ- grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and purpose- then we will be even more thankful for this nation where we can freely speak about and practice true liberty in Christ’s name. Then we will truly be the Land of the Free!

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Love is effective.

Love. Should it really be the reason for everything you do? Love God, love one another… Jesus says the entire Law of God hangs on these two things. This must be an important idea because it’s echoed by John (the Apostle of love), Paul, Peter and others (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:34, 1 Corinthians 13, and 1 John 4:7 for starters). The Law of GOD hangs on loving Him and loving one another. If God’s anything at all, then He’s Creator of nature and all its laws- so this love thing? It can’t be merely theoretical. It must be practical. It’s not just for religion. It’s for all of life.

Could it be that ‘love God, love one another’ are the two laws on which hang the laws for the non-religious things we do in life? Take business, for example. Are these two laws sufficient as a basis for business? Just for a moment, let’s consider the status of business in our culture today. Wouldn’t you agree that there is a general skepticism of the motives of business-people in our culture? And why shouldn’t there be? Business graduates are taught tactics which serve the profit motive exclusively, but where is universal truth- like love? It’s not found in the university. We have fulfilled C. S. Lewis’ prophecy: we graduate men and women with heads and with stomachs but lacking chests.

If we blindly employ business tactics which ensure a profit, but we have not love… are we not evil? Will our business not fail even in its success? But if we make the profit motive serve our two universal laws- to love God and love others, doesn’t the profit become good… even beautiful? The profit then serves the Greatest Good (God), the greater good (man) and the ox is not muzzled as he treads out the grain (one’s self). Take away love and the ox becomes obese as his fellow man starves- a situation which God certainly will not leave unpunished.

I would venture to say that our two laws will be just as effective when applied to any other ‘secular’ activity. Suddenly, we will find there are no ‘secular’ activities. Nothing is mundane or purposeless. The ugliness of human pride and self aggrandizement retreat, giving way to a type of competitiveness which edifies all involved. Yes, I believe that loving God and loving others leads to true excellence in whatever one chooses to do. Love is not just theoretical. It’s not merely religious. It’s practical. It’s effective.

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After reading Romans 6:1-23

I’ll take You at Your word
I see the worlds You have built- out of nothing-
and Your wonders are speaking still

All glory and honor to You.

Lord don’t let
my prayers be hindered by the sins that I commit-
only show me, search me, and I will repent.

Then,

the cords of death
will fall from my neck
and these scales from my eyes and my
deaf ears will hear and I will cry, rejoice
with a loud voice unto my Lord
as a slave not worthy of reward.

But reward You do-
with Life, when I abide
in the Vine not subject to time
and I will claim as mine the Divine
as He comes and lives inside
and Together We will dine, He and I,
as my old man dies.

But praise God! I will rise
a new man to thrive
in a New Land
where sin finds its end
and true Life begins.

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Branches

BranchesFriend, are you weary and withered?
Like a branch broken by the wind, tossed aside?-
Whose leaves will never bud again no matter how they try?

Who picks up branches
and kindly reattaches
what the wind has blown away?
Ridiculous would be this grace-
this utter waste of time and pow’r,
like making sweet a grape that’s sour.

Friend, I’ll never understand
the kindness in His hand
nor the effort He did spend
to pick me up again and again
miraculously binding me
to the Tree, the Vine
from which comes life
and in which I
will never, ever die.
Now time no longer tires me;
instead- in Him- revives me
to bear the fruit that He desires:
To tell you, friend,
about the grace
He wishes to extend.

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In Ink

Wisdom

Wisdom is 5 am clarity when the world is unspoiled potential. It comes about by self-control- by intention and not by accident.

Wisdom asks the right questions: “What can be done?” “What should be done?” Not, “What do I want to do?”

Where is wisdom today? I know where it’s not. It’s not in my typing fingers nor the keys they touch. Wisdom escapes me there… so I will write- slowly and thoughtfully. I’ll write in ink with no way to delete; like a single-shot rifle
I have to make it count.
In ink that remains when the power goes out
I will write in search of wisdom
knowing that my words will remain.
Oh, the responsibility of writing words which do not fade!
Let them not be in vain- No!-
not like a stain from a hasty gesture;
rather, may they be like paint upon my brush
forming thoughts as I touch
the very face of-

Wisdom—
The fear of God.
It’s mighty odd
to those who do not know Him.
And if that were not odd enough
we’re also called to love Him.
Putting nothing else
above Himself
He calls us then to love
each other with the love
with which He first loved us. Love-
that never ends with time
and although dying, never dies. Love-
that breaks all other ties,
that glories in self-sacrifice
without even thinking twice
about the price, the cost,
for whom all was lost,
but it’s alright
‘cause in the darkness shines this light
that we may come
to know Him,
fear Him,
love Him.
Knowing Him we rise above
and love each other with His love
In this I find what should be done-
today’s assignment: wisdom.

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Is there any hope?

“Is there any hope?”

My grandfather used to ask this question all the time.

Sometimes it was his greeting. When we’d go for coffee, Grandpa would come in, sit down, look at his huge hands as if for the first time and ask, “Is there any hope?” The sentence began- almost melodically- on the lowest note in his range, but the word “hope” slid up to some dissonant pitch an octave or more above the opening note. He wasn’t despairing but he wanted everyone to think he was. He didn’t bother to look for a response, he’d just look up at familiar pictures on the wall and wait for someone to respond with their spin on the daily news, the weather predictions or a crop report.

barn pic

Grandpa and I worked in the shop quite a bit. We always had an impossible mission… we were like the A-Team, building advanced equipment from the steel scraps and throw-away parts that Grandpa hoarded. Every day there was a point when it seemed- this time- we were doomed to fail. At the moment when all hope seemed lost, he’d ask with a sigh, “Is there- any- hope?” It was still melodic, but this time the word “any” got the highest pitch and the word “hope” sounded minor and ominous like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Grandpa was a Democrat and Dad was a Republican, but neither one of them looked for hope in government. Hope didn’t come from politicians, televangelists, faces on TV nor voices on the radio. To them, hope wasn’t something that could could be given, received, bought or sold. It was something that was earned. It came day by day when calloused hands found a way to make tomorrow a little better. It’s what they worked for. It’s never guaranteed. It’s always fleeting.

I think that’s why Grandpa always asked about hope. Like water in your hand, we never really possessed hope but we always worked for it. This is biblical. Romans 8:24-25- For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. He was no religious man, but he knew that hope came by working faithfully.

Hope came through- and in spite of- opposition, not absent of it.

For years I failed to understand hope. Hope is hard work, but I wanted hope realized. Read the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21. I was that guy. I was trying to build big barns and fill them up. I wanted to get to the part where life was arranged, planned, set up. I wanted to set up enough dominoes that I could spend the rest of my life watching them fall. I wanted insurance. I wanted guarantees. I wanted the politicians that would create the government that would perpetuate a system I could rely on. I wanted hope that did away with difficulty.

Is this where hope comes from? Does having enough insurance, assurance, paychecks, government promises, laws, houses, cars or food ever constitute hope? I think this kind of hope is a deception of our world. The Israelites wanted this kind of hope when they asked Samuel for a king in 1 Samuel 8. Republicans and Democrats want this kind of hope when they look for salvation through their candidate. People look for this kind of hope in anything from careers to lottery tickets.

Real hope is much more like Grandpa’s hope.

Real hope that cuts through the opposition like a flashlight in the dark. It lies outside the system, not within it. It is life in the face of death and victory in the face of defeat. Without the risk failure, there would be no hope. Like a seed, real hope is planted in difficulty and watered with perseverance. It blossoms into character and matures into hope.

This, too, is biblical. Romans 5:3-5- And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Grandpa asked if there was any hope. I say there is Hope.

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The beginning of a prayer

There’s a lot of talk about God in our culture these days. Have you noticed it? There’s talk about how God does or does not exist. About how He is or is not just. About whether or not He really has spoken, whether He has authority to tell us how to live our lives.

The words of our times- from the words we share on Facebook and Twitter and the buzz on the Gotcha websites to the thinly veiled talking points on the news- they form a noisy mob my ears. They shout at me… telling me where to go and how to act when I get there; telling me what to read and how to understand it. You- even you, if you have ever shared words with me- are among the voices. I think about what you think.

When the voices get overwhelming (which is often), I go to God. Yes, I take you before God… without your permission. I try to relate you to me, me to Him and Him to you. I ask Him… How does it all come together? What is the meaning? Is there reconciliation for all these different voices?… because somehow I know we are all one- bound by the same condition. And yet we are different. There is but One truth but there are many perceptions of it… each person has their own vantage point. There must be a vantage point Above, so I seek Him.

Why am I telling you this? As I was seeking His vantage point this morning, I brought some of your words before Him. I wrote them down for you.


If You were sitting here- right… here-
if these walls could contain You;
If You were here I’d look You in the eye…

But much to my surprise
I recognize my pride.
I could not look You in the eye.

Somehow I know You’re kind,

But somewhere deep inside
I scream bloody murder, holy terror-
Where have You been?
When the innocent were dying and the wicked men were lying-
Where were You then?

But then I choke upon my words, for
the fault was never Yours
and I’m sorry that I tried to blame you, Lord.

Yes, I just called you Lord.
What other hope do I have?
If not You, then who? Me?
There is no hope for one so weak-

No hope apart from strength,
no strength apart from You.
So I throw myself down before Your throne.
You are a King, I am only a pawn.


This work is not finished. Or… maybe it is too finished for you. If I lost you at “Lord” or somewhere before that just ignore the whole thing. But if you were still with me at the end, that’s a good place to begin. Go ahead, talk to Him.

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